Hellenistic Painting?


There is relatively little that has come across my way in terms of how the ancient Greeks painted. Here is an exception: a Hellenistic/Etruscan sarcophagus with a most attractive coloring and delicate outlines which remind me of the best examples of Greek vase painting.


This text is from the Archeological Museum in Florence.

The Sarcophagus of the Amazons

The sarcophagus was found in the Monterozzi Necropolis at Tarquinia (Viterbo) on 21 September 1869 (Giuseppe Bruschi excavations), and the Savoy government earmarked it for the Regio Museo Archeologico in Florence that acquired it on 5 December 1872.



It is an architectural sarcophagus with a pitched cover, ideally supported by four painted corner pillars; it was carved from calcareous alabaster (using two different blocks of the same stone) and decorated in tempera over a thin layer of plaster, with preparatory incisions and gray lines drawn with a paintbrush.



On the four sides are scenes of a battle between the Amazons, mostly on horseback or in chariots, and the Greeks: twenty-five combatants whose fate is undecided given the same number of fallen warriers in each group. In relief on the cover, part of the myth of Actaeon as he is torn apart by the dogs, between acroteria with female heads.

The sarcophagus was probably made in Greece and reached Eturia in a semi-finished state and was most likely completed in Tarquinia by an Etruscan sculptor and at least two Apulian painters who probably came from the Taranto area.



The deceased’s epigraph is carefully carved - from right to left - on the cover:

Ramtha Huzcnai thui ati nacnva Larthial / Apaiatrus zileteraias

After the ceiling of the tomb collapsed, the inscription was hidden beneath blocks of tufa and was no longer visible. Another person carved it into the sarcophagus itself, above the paintings, with slight variations (probably working from memory). It too reads from right to left:

Ramtha Huzcnai thui cesu ati nacna Larthial Apiatrus zil eterais

(Here lies Ramtha Huzcnai, grandmother of Larth Apaiatru, magistrate of the class of the Etera)

The Sarcophagus of the Amazons is a rare example of tempera painting on marble using mineral and organic segments, from the middle of the fourth century B.C.


The following are screenshots from the museum display which describe details of the color pigments used.


The tempera on alabaster creates a very luminous pictures:

For me it is a “not-to-miss” impression in Florence.

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